My first lengthy exposure to digital photography

Well, I took the plunge. I’ve entered the world of digital photography.
Panasonic lowered the retail price of its Lumix DMC-LC20 digital camera to $249. That, along with a promotion that threw in some memory cards, made me bite.

It’s a 2.1-megapixel unit (2 megapixel usable, according to the sticker on the front of the camera–kudos for truth in advertising) and its main selling point is its Leica lens. Leica, for those who aren’t hard-core into photography, is a German camera maker known for its high-quality and very expensive lenses.

I’ve been playing with it a little, and here’s what I’ve found (besides my need to practice some more).

You’ll probably have to take precautions for the included single set of charged AA NiMH 1600mAh batteries to have enough juice to take more than 16 meg worth of pictures. That’s not a lot. They aren’t the bottom-line batteries available (an awful lot of people seem to be selling 1400mAh batteries), but you can get 1800mAh or even 2000mAh batteries. The 1800s are a proven, mature technology. Buy at least two pair of 1800s, charge them up and take them with you. This thing munches ’em fast.

The included 8-meg SM card doesn’t hold a lot of images. Of course, people go ga-ga over the Sony Mavica cameras that use floppies, and a floppy is less than 1.5 megs. Be glad that Panasonic is throwing in a couple of bigger cards.

USB transfers from the camera’s SM cards are quick and easy, which really makes me wonder what the big deal is about Mavicas.

Image quality is very good. I’ll share some images once I’m not posting over dialup.

Professional photographers aren’t too keen on consumer-grade digital cameras, because a 1600×1200-resolution image is only enough to print a 4×5 print with acceptable quality (and it’ll look better smaller). But the only way to get good at taking pictures is to take a lot of them. An inexperienced photographer is going to take a lot of bad images. With digital, you don’t have to pay to process and print all the bad images. And digital gives you instant feedback. You’ll find youself compensating immediately for the effects of lighting.

The downsides of printing your own photographs are the cost of the prints (no less than the individual cost of a print off film, by the time you figure the cost of the ink cartridges and the special paper), and the longevity, or lack thereof. Inkjets aren’t known for producing long-lasting images. Inexpensive color laser printers will eventually give great strides in the right direction towards solving both problems, but right now “inexpensive” means $1,000. It’ll be a year or two before they hit the magical $499 mark.

But if you figure $1 per print, it won’t take long for a digital camera’s savings to pay for itself and for that printer.

It’s very easy to increase the Lumix’s exposure time for taking night shots, and I got some good ones. But I was missing my tripod. My hands aren’t steady enough to take sharp images without one once you lengthen the exposure time.

I’m not feeling any tinges of buyer’s remorse over this thing. Especially not after a night on the town with it. (Kansas City on the night after Thanksgiving offers lots of interesting subjects.)

6 thoughts on “My first lengthy exposure to digital photography

  • November 30, 2002 at 1:28 am
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    Dave,
    The only things that the Mavica has going for it is the floppy storage and the low resolution. I build Word documents with many, many immages embeded in them (under NT 4.0 – sp6…no USB). These documents get to be 10-15 Megs quickly. I take the shot, open it in IfranView and resample at half size. This works because I only embed them at about 1″ by 1″. Other than that; I agree with you.

  • November 30, 2002 at 3:11 pm
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    Professional photographers aren’t too keen on consumer-grade digital cameras, because a 1600×1200-resolution image is only enough to print a 4×5 print with acceptable quality (and it’ll look better smaller)

    You’d be surprised… I started with a Nikon Coolpix 800 at 2 megapixels; I’ve printed A3 pix from this camera that received merit awards in open competition. Then I found out about a Photoshop plugin called Genuine Fractals. This uses totally different algorithms for pixel interpolation than PS, and scaling up smaller images to large prints is most successful.

    Now I use a Coolpix 990 @ 3.4 MP and the A3s off that are still winning prizes. I don’t think I’ll upgrade until I can get 5 – 6 MP at a reasonable price.

    Cheers… /Mike

  • December 2, 2002 at 6:56 pm
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    You’re right. I tried printing a 1600×1200 image scaled up to the usable width of an 8.5×11 page (somewhere between 8 and 8.25 inches) and the quality was acceptable. A good film camera would give finer resolution and detail, but a lot of people wouldn’t know the difference.

  • December 2, 2002 at 7:48 pm
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    Dave,

    I’m going to suggest you go look up the program “QImage Pro” (www.ddisoftware.com/qimage) and try printing that same file with it. I think you will be amazed at the quality improvement. The user interface will take a little getting used to, but give it a whirl and see if it works for you.

    I’ve got a 2.6MP camera (Canon Pro 90 IS), and I’ve had flawless images done by using QImage to up-size to 300×300 and taking it to my camera shop to get printed. I think you’ll find that QImage will do a great job of improving your output.

  • December 3, 2002 at 4:26 pm
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    One thing that I have learned recently (after 3 years and 3 different digital cameras) is to utilize some of the one hour places like Sam’s Club, Costco and Walgreens to print out smaller pictures.

    I load the card with the images I want to print and they will print those images on their one hour machine. Photo paper and quality near or sometimes better than the snapshots we are all familiar with. Usually prices are similar to using photo paper in my Epson printer – $.19 to $.29 for 4×6 and $.69 to $.99 for 5×7.

    Works great for family snapshots, birthday parties, school plays, and the everyday events that you want to share with family and friends. And parents and grandparents are thrilled to have pictures immediately or within 1-2 days. Great gift in a cheap frame…

  • November 30, 2003 at 2:10 pm
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    I bought the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC20 around 12-02 and started having trouble with it around 9-03. It started saying “Memory Card Error” every time I turned it on to use it. Now I can’t take any pictures and my labor warranty was up after six months. I sent it in to Panasonic and they could not tell me what was wrong with it, they just said they needed a minimun of $165 to fix it. I didn’t want to spend $165 on a $250 camera and still have no warranty. Has anybody experienced this problem and what have you done? It just sits on the shelf collecting dust now! Thanks.

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